September 25, 2018

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Swimming alone not worth the risk, Lifesaving Society warns

The suspected drownings of two young men in separate Manitoba incidents this week is a grim reminder to people heading to the beach or to the Winnipeg Folk Festival: don't swim alone.

"It's the most obviously absent safety measure in a lot of (drowning) scenarios," said Kevin Tordiffe, acting chief executive officer at Lifesaving Society Manitoba. "Sometimes the simplest tricks are the ones that have the best benefit."

And Tordiffe is urging people attending the 45th edition of the folk fest to be safe; overheated folk fest fans in search of relief often wander off the Birds Hill Provincial Park site to the nearby man-made beach. The event opens Thursday and will draw tens of thousands of people over the next four days.

On Wednesday, RCMP recovered the body of an 18-year-old Winnipeg man who vanished Monday while swimming in rapids at Pinawa Dam Provincial Heritage Park with friends. He wasn't wearing a life-jacket.

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The suspected drownings of two young men in separate Manitoba incidents this week is a grim reminder to people heading to the beach or to the Winnipeg Folk Festival: don't swim alone.

"It's the most obviously absent safety measure in a lot of (drowning) scenarios," said Kevin Tordiffe, acting chief executive officer at Lifesaving Society Manitoba. "Sometimes the simplest tricks are the ones that have the best benefit."

And Tordiffe is urging people attending the 45th edition of the folk fest to be safe; overheated folk fest fans in search of relief often wander off the Birds Hill Provincial Park site to the nearby man-made beach. The event opens Thursday and will draw tens of thousands of people over the next four days.

Overheated folk fest fans in search of relief often wander off the site to the nearby man-made beach. (Phil Hossack / Free Press files)

Overheated folk fest fans in search of relief often wander off the site to the nearby man-made beach. (Phil Hossack / Free Press files)

On Wednesday, RCMP recovered the body of an 18-year-old Winnipeg man who vanished Monday while swimming in rapids at Pinawa Dam Provincial Heritage Park with friends. He wasn't wearing a life-jacket.

And Tuesday night, 4-1/2 hours northwest of Pinawa, the body of Danny Berhie Kidane, 24, who went missing last weekend during Dauphin's Countryfest, was found in a creek near the festival site. RCMP have not provided details on the cause of Kidane's death.

A drowning occurs when a person's airway is blocked because it is either "defending itself" against water or water itself has been introduced to the airway, which means their oxygen levels plummet, Tordiffe said. The lifeguard of almost 25 years said someone who is drowning will lose consciousness and if their airway isn't cleared so they can start to breathe, they die from cardiac arrest.

Tips to prevent drowning:

• Assess swimming areas and consult beach safety officers and on-duty lifeguards about water conditions before diving in.

• Wear a life-jacket.

• Don't swim or hang out near bodies of water alone.

• Assess swimming areas and consult beach safety officers and on-duty lifeguards about water conditions before diving in.

• Wear a life-jacket.

• Don't swim or hang out near bodies of water alone.

• Don't go in or near a water body or go on a boat intoxicated.

• Keep children in arms reach near water.

• Watch other swimmers who have gone underwater closely (someone who is drowning often won't scream for help because their airway is blocked and they will likely be drowning while submerged).

• Take swimming and lifesaving courses.

Source: Lifesaving Society

Deadly drownings across the country have decreased by a third over the last two decades, the latest Lifesaving Society's report shows. Eight people died by drowning in Manitoba in 2015 (the most recent data in the report) and 14 died the previous year.

"It's always a surprise when we hear about drownings... the summer season of 2018 has been worse it seems than the summer season of 2017," Tordiffe said.

Incidents in July account for one-quarter of the total fatal drowning numbers in Manitoba between 2010 and 2014; the majority occurred during recreational activities.

"Security remains one of our key priorities and we have over 500 volunteers dedicated to the safety of everyone on the festival site and campgrounds," Irina Ivanov Bissonnette, communications manager at Winnipeg Folk Festival, wrote in a statement to the Free Press.

Beach safety officers will be on duty at the beach at Bird's Hill Park. (John Woods / Free Press files)

Beach safety officers will be on duty at the beach at Bird's Hill Park. (John Woods / Free Press files)

"Since 2013, we have increased our security coverage by approximately 400 per cent, brought a security training program in-house and increased security training standards from the required 40 hours to 160 hours."

While the folk fest doesn't monitor the Birds Hill Provincial Park Beach because it isn't part of the event site — it's located two kilometres away from the campground — Bissonnette said provincial beach safety officers will be on duty as they are at Grand Beach and Winnipeg Beach provincial parks.

"But you have to understand, even by putting professional rescuers and lifeguards on scenes, it does not alleviate the drowning risk. There's always a personal responsibility for you and your family in any aquatic environment when it comes to safety," Tordiffe said.

A 22-year-old man died at Birds Hill in August 2016. The Free Press reported the drowning victim was playing volleyball at the beach with friends before he went for a swim and didn't resurface.

Wear a life-jacket, keep kids within arms reach in the pool, take swimming and lifesaving courses and swim only when sober are some of the key messages Tordiffe said the Lifeguarding Society will be promoting during National Drowning Prevention Week later this month. Alcohol is involved in between 70 and 80 per cent of drownings in Canada, he said, adding that Manitoba "skews to the higher side of those statistics."

 The Lifeguarding Society will be promoting taking swimming lessons during National Drowning Prevention Week later this month. (Cherie Diez /  Tampa Bay Times files)

The Lifeguarding Society will be promoting taking swimming lessons during National Drowning Prevention Week later this month. (Cherie Diez / Tampa Bay Times files)

"Choose to participate sober" when cooling off from singing and dancing this weekend, he said, adding beachgoers should also scan the area for people submerged under the water.

"People often drown very silently because most of their action and activity is below the surface of the water and their sole focus is on trying to protect their airway so things like shouting out and yelling and waving are not priorities for them," he said.

"When you're out with your friends or buddies, vigilence is key."

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

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